February has been celebrated as Black History Month since President Gerald Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Since the 2022 Black History Month theme is “Black Health and Wellness,” we’d like to take an opportunity this month to introduce a few people who have contributed to the overall health and wellness of people through the years.
Mary Eliza Mahoney
Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first black licensed nurse in the United States. Although Mary had dreams of becoming a nurse from the time she was a young girl, she was not permitted to enter nursing school officially until she was in her thirties. For fifteen years, she worked in various roles at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Mary was a janitor, a cook, and a washer woman, before being able to act as a nursing aide.
Finally, in 1878, at the age of 33, Mary was admitted into the hospital’s nursing school. The 16-month program was intensive, and only 4 of the 42 students were able to complete it fully. Mary was one of them, making her the first African American in the U.S. to earn a professional nursing license.
In 1896, Mary joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, amongst a largely white membership base, many of whom were not accepting of the black nurses. So, in 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). She gave the opening speech at the NACGN’s first national convention, was elected their national chaplain, and was awarded a lifetime membership.
Although Ms. Mahoney would go on to work another 40 years in her profession, her impact and reach didn’t end there. She was the director of the Howard Orphanage Asylum for black children in Long Island, NY from 1911-1912. And when she finally retired fully she continued to remain a champion for women’s rights. Mary died of breast cancer, at the age of 80, in 1926. Among all of her other accomplishments it should also be noted that, after the 19th Amendment was ratified in August of 1920, she was among the first women who registered to vote.
Please join us in exploring a new piece of history every week this month on our blog.